“Christmas, bah! Humbug!” Ebenezer Scrooge bitterly spits out, denouncing any mention of Christmas and establishing himself as a dreary miser from the play’s start. It is impossible from the onset to imagine the merriment that Scrooge will possess by the play’s end.
“A Christmas Carol” is a theater production of the 1843 Charles Dickens novella, adapted by Cynthia Caywood and Richard James and directed by Scott Denison. Playing at the Center REPertory Company through Dec. 22, this theatrical performance of a much-loved holiday classic gives new life to Dickens’ novel with captivating special effects and comic originality.
The plot follows the cruel miser Scrooge through a night of Christmas past, present and future, presented to him by three ghosts and introduced by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley warns Scrooge of the damnation that awaits him in death if he continues in his cruelty, which is exemplified by his hatred of Christmas. Center REPertory sticks true to this classic tale of repentance and transformation but provides theatrical engagement with original atmospherics.
The set design transforms seamlessly throughout the performance to accommodate the various locations and time periods in the plot. With classic, Victorian architecture and grungy, gray coloring, the stage is an embodiment of 19th-century London. A two-tiered structure provides a textured visual composition, while the foreground is left open for the changing scenery.
The genius use of special effects and aesthetics is what distinguishes this play from any other. Captivating use of projected images, lighting, smoke, sound effects, confetti and voice-overs give Center REP’s “A Christmas Carol” unique elements of visual entertainment.
These aesthetics complement the characteristics of the ghosts of Jacob Marley (Jeff Draper), Christmas past (Kerri Shawn), Christmas present (Jerry Lee) and Christmas future (Scott Maraj). Draper delivers a heart-thumping warning to Scrooge accompanied by rattling chains attached to ghastly figures, a modern interpretation of the traditional money boxes. Similarly, both Shawn and Lee take their characters in new directions, adding more theatrical and comic elements to Dickens’ seriousness. And although Maraj’s ghost of Christmas future doesn’t speak at all, his presence is keenly felt as he stands towering and humongous over Scrooge.
In addition to the visual engagement of the ghosts, each character in “A Christmas Carol” brings enjoyable entertainment to the play. Differing from the original plot, Scrooge, played by Michael Ray Wisely, demonstrates tangible character development, drawing many laughs with his comical displays of fear and joy. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred Hastings, is played wonderfully by Teddy Spencer, whose stage presence draws the audience into his character’s sincerity and generosity.
In one of the play’s most colorful and joyous scenes — a gorgeous musical number involving dancing, singing and merriment — Michael McCarty makes a superb appearance as Mr. Fezziwig, perfectly conveying the ridiculousness that Dickens originally crafted.
Although “A Christmas Carol” is perfection in its characters and visual engagement, it falls slightly short in its historical accuracy. Even though the costumes used throughout are vibrant and visually engaging, the play fails to acknowledge the grueling realities of London’s streets. An early scene of a street urchin stealing bread loses its impact because the urchin is dressed in warm, clean clothes. Without a speck of dirt on him, the depth of poverty and suffering is lost on the audience, and the plot suffers. Dickens’ original “A Christmas Carol” compares the suffering of the poor to the cruelty of the rich and the audience cannot understand this suffering if it is not displayed. Similarly, although other scenes of beggars bear dramatic visual dreariness, the appearance of the characters fails to express the intensity of their suffering.
Overall, Center REPertory’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is a marvel of visual and theatrical engagement sure to incite laughs, gasps and silent awe from its audience. A heartwarming production about the true meaning of Christmas, “A Christmas Carol” is a must-see this holiday season.